Wild Fact #954 – How the Desert Locust Changes from Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde

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Well, I am back from British Columbia and well rested so let’s dive right into Monday’s Wild Fact.  While, I was sitting in my hotel last week, I saw a commercial about an upcoming movie called 2012 which predicted the end of the world in the year of the title. It got me thinking about deadly plagues and I remembered that one of the 10 plagues of Egypt mentioned that locusts would come in and out with the wind.  In a weird, round about way, that movie preview inspired today’s fact about locusts. So what exactly is a locust? We probably know they can be devastating to agriculture as they eat everything in sight but what causes this insect to be so destructive.

Firstly I want to let you know that a locust is basically a large grasshopper.  I bet the majority of us have played with grasshoppers and they didn’t seem that destructive.  For the most part this is true, but let’s take the desert locust for example.  When there is plenty of food and the population of desert locusts is in check they are fairly harmless insects.  Although, once the population starts to increase and the food runs out these small, friendly locusts become similar to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  As the population grows there will be much more stimulation on the hind legs of the locust.  So big deal, right?  Wow, their legs are getting bumped due to overcrowding.  I have seen similar things with humans in large cities so what is the big deal.  I know, it may seem trivial but as these locusts legs constantly get touched it will release serotonin.  Just so you know serotonin is known to play a role in regulating mood, appetite and muscle contraction.  So are you starting to see the importance of Dr. Jekyll’s legs constantly getting bumped?  As this serotonin level increases the friendly desert locusts will begin to molt until they produce one final generation of locust.  This last generation, however, will be in the Mr. Hyde form.  Instead of being a solitary animal they will turn gregarious and form gangs with other locusts.  They become larger, change colours, consume more food and breed easier.  This gregarious form is the typical locust swarm that we all picture.  These swarms can become very large containing billions of locusts. Yes, BILLIONS! You can imagine what these hungry little insects will do to crops everywhere.  Now that scientists realize it is an increase in serotonin levels that cause the gregarious form of locusts, they are working on a pesticide that will change them back into their harmless, solitary form.  To date, I don’t believe this chemical exists but I am sure they are working hard on it. So, remember, the next time you are playing with a friendly grasshopper, make sure you don’t constantly touch the back legs 🙂 .

Desert Locust Fast Fact – Desert locusts fly with the wind and can cover up to 100-200 kilometers/day.  They will not fly higher that 2000 meters above sea level so tall mountain ranges will provide some very important barriers to this insect.

After I wrote today’s post I went searching for a great video that shows what a locust swarm looks like.  I came across a video done by National Geographic that basically explains this Wild Fact.  Check it out in the post below to see how devastating these swarms of locusts can be.

Literature Cited:

http://www.world-science.net/othernews/090130_locust.htm

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